Belfast Telegraph

Irish League would benefit from a mid-season break, says Linfield's Stephen Lowry


By Graham Luney

Linfield midfielder Stephen Lowry has added his voice to calls for a mid-season break in the Danske Bank Premiership.

The Irish League's top flight is set to embrace change after the Irish FA included a proposal to tinker with the season in their new five-year strategy.

If the fixtures can be shuffled so that Premiership sides are playing in May and June, then it would enhance the chances of success for those targeting European glory.

The financial rewards for clubs competing in the Europa League and Champions League are now huge, with Linfield set to pocket around £1million if they can beat San Marino side La Fiorita and set up a showdown with Celtic.

Jordan Stewart's late goal has handed David Healy's side a slender advantage heading into Tuesday night's rematch.

Some in the domestic game, including Coleraine boss Oran Kearney, believe that the Irish League should switch to the summer months, just like the Airtricity Premier League, and opinion polls on the issue indicate that views are very mixed.

Others such as Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey feel that some tinkering of the season could be worthwhile, such as a mid-season break in January, and Blues ace Lowry is singing from the same hymn sheet.

"My personal opinion is that change is needed, but I would like to see us retain the winter fixtures, Boxing Day and New Year," argued the former Coleraine ace.

"That's such a massive part of Irish League football, but I also recognise there's a gap in quality when we come up against teams in Europe.

"Irish League players are part-time but they are only getting four-and-a-half weeks off a year and that's not enough. We had the Irish Cup final, a few weeks of rest and before you know it we are back at it again, expected to perform in a Champions League tie, often against teams who are well into their seasons.

"If you aren't in the best physical shape, you cannot expect to play at your best. That's why I think there should be a mid-season break like they have in the Airtricity League.

"The financial rewards in Europe now are very lucrative and a break would allow the players to re-energise and be able to meet the physical challenges.

"I've never felt that the difference between Irish League sides and many full-time teams throughout Europe is that big, so it's going that extra yard by getting the preparations right. And if we do we can get through a few rounds in Europe because some of the opposition is beatable. And when you do progress you can land a team like Celtic, or like when Cliftonville were drawn against Debrecen.

"Particularly in the Europa League, some of the teams are at our level, and if we were at our competitive best we could enjoy more success.

"Opinions on the summer football issue are mixed but there doesn't need to be drastic change. I say keep the Boxing Day fixtures as financially they are a big part of our league but look at introducing a break."

Lowry also believes that a break could spare pitches more punishment, adding: "At the end of the season we are involved in big matches, massive games with a lot at stake, but some of the pitches are really poor.

"The surfaces are better in the Airtricity League and if you have pitches that are in a good condition then you will see better football."

Belfast Telegraph


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